As more journals start to take advantage of the benefits of the online format, this has follow on effects for authors and their submissions. Online publication allows manuscripts to be more visual and interactive and editors are using those features to help attract more readers. One of the increasingly common features editors are adopting in this style is the graphical abstract.
Graphical abstracts may seem counter-intuitive and insufficient as an author. You will be used to explaining exactly what your manuscript is about in a nice concise summary, with each section of your paper represented. The idea behind a graphical abstract though, is to convey this same information in a single image, with limited text. In addition to helping readers understand the findings of the paper and whether it is relevant to them quickly, it also removes some of the language struggles non-native English speakers might face in writing or reading in English.
If your target journal requires you to submit a graphical abstract along with your manuscript, here are some tips to help you design one:
- Think about what your paper is describing: a mechanism, a theory, a structure, or a cause and effect. What kind of visual would best showcase this concept?
- Consider the essential elements involved in your study. Thinking about key words here can help you determine what to include to draw the interest of readers.
- Keep your abstract to a single image or split panels.
- Do not just re-use one of the figures from your manuscript. Consider the graphical abstract an additional image of its own that brings together the ideas shown within the manuscript.
- Avoid including too many details or distracting elements. Label any items clearly and show processes with arrows.
- Use only details from your own findings, not any referenced literature, unless absolutely necessary.
For examples of good graphical abstracts, Elsevier has several good examples for different types of manuscript, while Cell shows how initial abstract submissions were improved for better visual impact.
We recommend you to have the technical content of your manuscript reviewed by an independent expert in your field BEFORE submitting to your target journal. This will allow you to improve the content based on advice and recommendations from an experienced expert and will minimize the need for revisions after submission.